Earlier this season, I wrote about how Georgia Southern shares one of the South's great rivalries with Appalachian State. But while there's plenty of animosity between the former FCS powers, hate is a strong word when it comes to GSU-ASU.
GSU-GSU? That's Another Story.
The sheer length of this post on a Sun Belt message board tells you there's no love lost between the Panthers and the Eagles. Before we talk about why, how about a little #SouthernnotState.
Oh yea, Georgia State has their own version.
Got asked several times while on campus today: companion tickets are $10 and are available at the Sports Arena box office #StateNotSouthern— Parker Hendricks (@GSUParker) October 21, 2014
So there's that. Anyway, why all the hate?
"Younger, full-time, 'traditional' college kids"
Legendary Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell made "One More Time" part of the school's lore. Fans still yell it after every kickoff (you won't miss it in the Georgia Dome Saturday) and it was plastered on the helmets when Southern played Idaho two weeks ago. This weekend though, One More Time is a misnomer. These teams are meeting for the first time.
For years the state of Georgia was a quart low on football teams. As late as 2009, when Alabama had four and Louisiana had five, the Peach State sported just two FBS programs. Georgia Southern and Savannah State were the lone FCS schools, the rest playing in Division II or lower.
Technically, that changed when Georgia State announced on April 17, 2008 it would start a football program. Sort of.
Georgia State was always a strange fit for football. The school's scattered Atlanta campus and high percentage of commuter students (17 percent of undergrads live on campus) don't exactly scream traditional college, and certainly don't fit the white-columned image of a southern football school.
That commuter school tag is exactly what State wanted to shake off in hitting the gridiron.
"On-campus Greek housing, which opened this summer, will also attract younger, full-time, 'traditional' college kids," read a 2010 Atlanta Magazine story about the new team. "But football, Georgia State believes, is still the linchpin."
So football happened. They hired former Georgia Tech and Alabama coach Billy Curry to start a program. And man, did they put him to work.
Plenty of stadiums could handle a Georgia State football crowd. Herndon Stadium, Grady Stadium, some lawn chairs scattered around a youth soccer field. Instead, State went with none other than the home of the Atlanta Falcons, the 75,000-seat Georgia Dome.
Coupling these ambitions, it played a year of provisional football and a single year in FCS before transitioning toward the big time in 2012.
Perhaps it's no surprise Curry couldn't keep pace with the whiplash-inducing timeline. Since going 6-5 against a pillow-soft schedule in 2010, they've won a grand total of five games. State is 11-41 all time. They've lost to something called Lambuth, a team so bad it doesn't exist anymore. They've paid students to come to games, literally.
Curry had enough by the end of 2012. The school, recognizing its predicament, hired Trent Miles, whose calling card was turning a dismal Indiana State squad into a decent team. But Miles has struggled just as mightily as Curry. He's 1-18, the win coming by one point against FCS Abilene Christian.
Saturday's game will be Georgia Southern's second in Da Dome. The Eagles beat Middle Tennessee there in 1995. With a victory, Southern can claim more wins against current FBS members in the Dome (2) than State (1).
GS vs. GSU
Given the history, one could wonder why Southern fans talk about this game at all. A win by State is extremely improbable. If it did happen, pedigree is still in the Eagles' favor and will be for years and years to come.
Georgia Southern is a pretty new team itself, in business since 1981 after dropping football during World War II. In the modern era, it's won six FCS national titles, a bucketful of conference crowns and boasts a .731 all-time winning percentage.
But the truth is Georgia State's foray into football had a huge impact on both schools. State has been around since 1913, yet it re-wrote the fight song and Alma Mater, switched up its logos and changed the mascot just for the occasion (which explains lyrics like "we're from the A-T-L, we're gonna give 'em Hell," which don't exactly scream John Phillip Sousa).
Oh, and there was one other change: After years of avoiding the term, the school began formally using the initials "GSU." They followed through by slapping the letters on the side of their football helmets. Around the same time, billboards popped up on the interstates leading from one GSU to the other advertising the new team.
The hate was born.
Georgia Southern went so far as to change its primary athletic logo from a stylized "GS" to one spelling out "Georgia Southern" to avoid confusion. Officially, the Sun Belt calls Georgia Southern "GS" and Georgia State "GSU," which is what you'll see on the scoreboard during Saturday's game.
More importantly, Georgia Southern jumped to FBS itself after nearly 30 years at the I-AA/FCS level. State had to be part of the reason. Lest we forget, a year after winning the school's last FCS title in 2000, coach Paul Johnson was offered the job at Navy. He told Southern's then athletic director Sam Baker only one thing might keep him in Statesboro -- a move to the top level of football.
Baker's response? Nah, we're good. That wasn't an option once State entered the scene.
The step up has paid off for the Eagles. They're 4-0 in conference with a good shot at the Sun Belt title, and broke the regular season attendance record earlier this year at Paulson Stadium.
Still, a lot of Southern fans are insulted Georgia State plays in the exact same conference based on nothing more than location.
Remember, the conference realignment craze of 2010-2012 was driven by TV markets. Missouri joined the SEC to grab St. Louis. Colorado brought Denver to the Pac-12. Rutgers lured The Big Apple to The Big Ten. Georgia State, apparently, would bring Atlanta to the Sun Belt.
The problem is none of those other teams actually play in their desired media market. As we'll see Saturday, Georgia Southern has a lot more Atlanta fans than Georgia State.
"Southern, not State"
The worst part for Southern is a lot of folks can't even remember who is who.
ESPN, especially, cannot separate one GSU from the other to save its life. Part of it is life as a lesser-known FBS school, part is a byproduct of having two schools in the same state, in the same conference, with the same initials.
Part of it is unacceptable.
Even during Southern games in Statesboro, where the school's name is spelled out in four-foot tall letters on the freaking 50 yard line, ESPN's announcers call us Georgia State.
To the unaffiliated it's harmless. To those in the know, they're confusing this:
This ain't intramurals, brother pic.twitter.com/78wFzNQGl7— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 27, 2014
They're confusing this:
MASSIVE UPSET IN THE SWAMP! Georgia Southern, more than a four touchdown underdog, beats Florida 26-20.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 23, 2013
Georgia State went 0-12 with the 119th toughest schedule in the country. Smh.— Roy (@Atta_Boy_Roy) December 3, 2013
They're confusing six national titles with 11 wins. Confusing the nation's #1 rushing offense with its #114 rush defense. Confusing a classic college town with... downtown Atlanta.
You get the idea. Luckily, a clever Southern fan (who I once shadowed at the Statesboro Herald) came up with this friendly reminder: It's Southern. Not State.
Since Georgia State falls well short of the 15,000 attendance minimum for FBS (an NCAA policy with even less bite than the Panthers), they're uber pumped for the coming influx of Southern fans. Oct. 25 was no coincidence: Georgia is off, Georgia Tech is in Pittsburgh.
State even threw in another cash-drop to beg students through the gates. This could be the biggest event
on campus at Georgia State since Lambuth closed shop.
To make clear Southern fans aren't pulling for Wrong Name U, Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein has called for a White Out. State has helped by calling for a blue out, but should have called for red: Those seats don't play around at Georgia State games.
The matchup itself shouldn't be close. Signs point to an easy Eagle victory, hopefully a speed bump en route to a Sun Belt championship. The future remains bright for Georgia Southern football.
As for State... I hear Lambuth knows how to fix a football problem.